Is agritourism right for your farm?

From farm stands to corn mazes and pumpkin patches, there are plenty of ways to drive agritourists to your farm.

Agritourism ventures are very popular with locals and tourists alike. Tourists are looking for unique local experiences where they can see and do an activity. Michigan Agritourism defines agritourism as the places where agriculture and tourism connect. “Anytime a farming operation opens its doors to the public and invites visitors to enjoy their products and services – that’s agritourism.”

Among the most common agritourism activities are pick your own operations, farm stands, farm stores, classes, tours, tastings, corn mazes, events, farm stays, hay rides, sleigh rides and pumpkin patches. There are many reasons a farm might look at agritourism as an option including additional income, diversification, education and preservation. The photos are appealing – weddings in beautiful barns, families wandering through gardens, kids enjoying petting farms and other activities, but what does it take to have such a venture on your farm?

Considerations in deciding if agritourism is a good fit for your farm:
  • Visual appearance of your farm. People understand that it is a working farm but do you have the capacity to provide visually appealing areas with relatively low hazards?
  • Knowledge of the staff. Do you have enough staff to manage the activities you are interested in hosting? Does any staff that will interact with the public understand your mission and values and can they articulate that? Customer service is key to a successful venture and the people who work on your farm are who is going to deliver that exceptional service.
  • Parking. Do you have adequate space for parking? Think about if you have a relatively flat area that can be set up for parking. It does not need to be a paved area but needs to be clearly marked and hopefully relatively dry. You may want to also check if there are local ordinances for parking that you would need to be in compliance with.
  • Providing restrooms. Do you have existing facilities with restrooms or can you rent portable facilities? Don’t forget the handwashing stations if you are renting portable restrooms.
  • Permits and zoning. If you are operating as a farm and the primary income is from farming many of these activities will be covered under allowable uses. There are instances where other ordinances or zoning may come into effect. Many farm buildings that are built for agricultural use are not inspected. If you begin to use one of these buildings for public events it is now considered a commercial use and appropriate guidelines would need to be followed.
  • Insurance. While this is a working farm and people understand that, you will want to confirm with your insurance that the types of activities you are hosting are covered under your insurance.

While thinking through the considerations can be daunting to some, there are many great reasons to think about agritourism as an opportunity for your farm. These ventures can operate year round or seasonally depending on what makes sense for your farm and the experience you want to provide. There is a strong interest among travelers to seek out unique experiences combined with an increased desire for the public to understand where there food comes from and how it is grown. Are you ready to help people have fun on the farm?